Full grain is the highest quality of leather with a price tag to match. You’ll start justifying the price of that new coat, however, once you see and touch this caliber of leather in person. The easiest way to tell a full grain leather is to check the item for small scars or imperfections in the hide. What seems to be little defects are actually the hallmark of untreated leather that hasn’t been sanded or buffed down, so it will remain strong for years to come.
Top grain is leather that has had the “split layer” separated from the “top grain” layer. These hides are sanded lightly to remove imperfections, which gives this leather a slightly plastic appearance. Top grain wears out more quickly and because it’s been sanded, it will not develop a nice patina with age like the full grain does.
Corrected Grain is leather that has been deeply sanded to remove imperfections, but in the process, loses the grain itself resulting in a flat, dull appearance. Corrected grain hides are often stamped or embossed with a fake grain, for example, the leather used in car upholstery. A leather we can all attest doesn’t age with any particular grace.
Bonded leather is the worst you can buy. Like particleboard, bonded leather is made from leather scraps glued together to create the semblance of a singular hide. The leather’s pieced-together quality means it wears out extremely quickly and cannot withstand any sort of damage. Its low price also makes it a popular option for fast fashion looking to make cheap leather goods.
Picking the Right Thickness
The thickness of the leather on any product is going to be an indication of its durability and how the item will withstand day-to-day wear. Both thin and thick leather have their advantages depending on how you plan to use it. When shopping for a bag, for example, go for thicker leathers, like cowhide, that looks like it could withstand getting tossed around a bit. In fact, scuffs and stains will only add more character to the bag as it ages. Thin leathers, like lambskin, on the other hand, are great when you’re looking for pieces with a more high-end feel, like a motorcycle jacket or a pair of driving gloves. When buying anything leather, it’s helpful to try to imagine the most common activities you’ll be doing in the piece to give yourself a clearer idea of exactly what you need.
Patent vs. Plastic
Patent leather is that shiny, slick looking leather that’s mostly found on men’s dress shoes and the occasional bag and accessory. When shopping for patent leather, it’s important not to be fooled by similar looking vinyl or PVC. Patent leather, although it has an almost identical appearance to vinyl and PVC, actually comes from leather, so it’s going to be far more durable and retain its shine and luster well after other plastic imitators have cracked and crumbled. Checking to make sure your patent is real is exactly like checking any other leather for authenticity.
Suede is leather with a napped finish made from the underside of the hide. Though it’s generally soft, thin and pliable, suede is also easily becomes dirty and quickly absorbs liquids, which can ruin the material permanently. So beware this finish unless you feel confident in your ability to maintain the upkeep suede requires, or the bank account to support the dry cleaning habit you’re sure to develop. Also, many fabrics are given a brushed finish to resemble suede, so less experienced buyers can often be fooled. Faux suedes, however, can be detected just as easily as fake leathers, you just need to know what you’re looking for.